Greene concedes that his experimental activities are not exactly mediagenic. In fact, the press has been as confused about what he's doing as unsuspecting museum-goers are. "I don't actually make things that often," Greene recently explained to a Channel 3 news crew that seemed completely baffled by Greene's work. "So, a lot of the projects are often inspired by various conversations with visitors to the museum."

News anchor Scott Pasmore was so flummoxed by the whole concept that he ended up nervously laughing and babbling incoherently on-camera. The artist later made color copies of Pasmore's head shot and had 80 fourth-graders draw Pasmore based on the photo. All the drawings will be on exhibit. There also will be a video of Greene conducting a deadpan, one-sided interview with a chimpanzee about potential art projects on which they might collaborate.

The artful antics of Josh Greene, who has a master's degree in sculpture from the California College of the Arts and teaches classes there, have reached outside museum confines as well. Greene made himself available for student videos in which he was completely directed by the budding filmmakers. ("I didn't ask a lot of questions about what they were doing and had no aesthetic involvement. There's a lot of blood involved.") A compilation of the results will be on display.

Josh Greene compares the head shot of Channel 3's Scott Pasmore and a portrait of Pasmore, as drawn by a fourth-grader.
Kathleen Vanesian
Josh Greene compares the head shot of Channel 3's Scott Pasmore and a portrait of Pasmore, as drawn by a fourth-grader.
A still from a Josh Greene video.
EmaLee Arroyo
A still from a Josh Greene video.

The artist also lays claim to being a regularly employed waiter in a San Francisco fine-dining restaurant, a job that inspired him to switch places with a waiter at the museum's recent Ceram-A-Rama gala, to which he had been invited as a guest. Surreptiously switching clothes with one male waiter, Greene began to serve other gala guests, which, after five minutes, so unnerved the waiter that the artist was forced to ask a female server to trade places. She thoroughly enjoyed being waited on by Greene. The artist's guest/wait staff performance could be considered a continuation of his ongoing "Service-Works" project, in which he pools his monthly tips earned as a waiter and funds art projects proposed to him by artists via applications submitted to a Web site (for details, check out Greene's Web site at www.josh-greene.com).

Blame all this on the French, if you must. Ever since French art critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term "relational aesthetics" in the 1990s to describe new, hard-to-pin-down participatory work he was seeing, this sort of art activity has become fashionable in the international museum and art worlds, though its precursors can be found in Dadaist and Surrealist practices. Relational art involves "interactivity" and "connectivity" among artist, audience and physical space, with a distinct movement toward reshaping the entire museum or gallery experience.

Bourriaud, who is now director of Paris' Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum, believes that today's museums, once-revered repositories for objects traditionally presented on pedestals or hung on walls, should be more like interdisciplinary studios or, better yet, gigantic experimental laboratories. According to art historian Claire Bishop, this kind of work is the natural evolution of art in societies shifting from a goods-based to a service-based economy aimed at creating and marketing entertaining "experiences," not to mention people's increased desire for real face-to-face interaction in a faceless, virtual, Internet-driven world.

Curator John Spiak views Greene's ASUAM work as ultimately revolving around decisions — how decisions are made, how individuals become empowered to make informed decisions, and how decisions that already have been made are challenged.

For me, the work is about, in part, transparency — laying bare the inner workings of a museum to examine its very purpose, as well as the manner in which objects are chosen for exhibition. It's about smashing restrictive historical barriers between artist, institution and viewer, who ordinarily do not personally interact in any appreciable way. Best of all, it's about extemporaneous, seat-of-your-pants creativity and pure, spontaneous human interaction. I just hope this kind of wild-ass, forward-looking experimentation continues under the next permanent director of ASUAM, who, according to the university's official P.R., will serve in a purely administrative capacity.

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